Piranesi by Susanna Clarke by Ayad Akhtar
Piranesi is a book unlike any other; it takes you into another world that, despite this novel’s relatively short length, you will feel you know intimately by its conclusion. Piranesi himself resides in The House, in its vast labyrinthine halls and chambers — a building that seems to defy the laws of physics and architecture. His sole living companion is The Other but he cares deeply for the animals and statues around him. The strangeness of this novel left me unnerved at times and for me, its real power lay in its window into life with mental illness (though this is just my take on it, rather than anything *official*). In today’s climate, though, where we are now entering another national lockdown and are completely restricted in every aspect of our lives, we might do well to learn from Piranesi, who despite the challenges of the world around him, is able to take complete joy from it and feel utter fulfilment. He simply doesn’t worry about what he can’t actually get to — and maybe neither should we.
You are literally thrown into the deep end with this book. It’s a mystical, reverent and mysterious world that is equally mesmerising and discombobulating. Initially I grappled with whether the story related to a parallel universe, a cult or a mental breakdown and I am still unsure which is correct. Piranesi is the epitome of innocence, accepting his curious existence blindly. A real sense of claustrophobia and paradoxically of infinite space is created. Susanna Clarke has been largely missing from the literary scene since the runaway success of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell in 2004 due to being seriously ill. Clarke has stated she was cut of from the world which is encapsulated by what the character contentedly endures. This read was so impactful that I dreamt about The House and it’s statues afterwards. In a similar strain to The Matrix this made me deeply question reality and organised religion. Its intense, captivating, haunting and gave me and Sophie so much to talk about afterwards.